Gravitas Ventures releases Aurora on January 27th, 2023 at Cinema Village and on VOD.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Which character's heart, mind and soul was most challenging to capture as a writer/director?
Noel Calloway: I think it was Giselle's character. Anytime I write the character of a woman, specifically a black woman, I'm very delicate and careful with how I portray that. I want to be honest, layered and respectful to every nuance that comes with a woman as as a man. I'm writing the actions and behaviors of someone whose shoes I've never walked in, but I also want to do that in a way that gives the actors space to grow in that character and to take that character in a different direction. I always challenge myself. There's probably a little bit of me in every male character that I write. That's easier to fall into and connect with, but when I'm writing a dynamic woman like Giselle, I take that as a challenge.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How do you think is ultimately responsible for capturing a character's heart, mind and soul?
Wakeema Hollis: I think, as an artist, it's about building a good foundation. What [Noel Calloway] put on the page is the foundation. It does make your job harder as an actor when the writing isn't there or doesn't go deep enough, but I did not have that issue with Giselle. The writing was there, the character was there, and then it allows me to go into the nuance of it and to find my vulnerability as a woman, as a human, as an actress, and then to bring all of that to it. So, I think it's a very collaborative process to really bring to life the heart and soul of a character because Giselle is a human being. You want the audience to get that human connection.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How do you think Giselle sees herself throughout Aurora?
WH: I think that Giselle, at the beginning of the film, has an idea of who she wants to be. She has an idea of where she wants to go in life. And then this love happens to her, this person happens to her. She's able to see him and the love that he has for his family because Giselle isn't fortunate enough to have a large family. She doesn't have parents, nieces, nephews and grandparents who she can lean on, but being able to witness first-hand how amazing and warm that is for Kenny, I think a lot of that does cause her to rethink some things. She rethinks, "Am I really the person who I thought I was? Are goals that I thought were important to me really that important in life?" So, we see Giselle in a moment of really trying to define herself and to find her footing because love happens to her and it throws her off a little bit which, I think, is a good thing, actually. What do you think, Tobias?
Tobias Truvillion: Absolutely. I do believe that it throws her off and knocks her right into where she needs to be. It knocks some sense into her. Love knocks sense into her. W Kenny was blinded by love a little bit. We've been scarred by love, so we take a gentle approach for me to look at love the way that Kenny might.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How would you define a good lover and a good friend?
WH: I think that a good lover is a good friend. That really brings in a layer that makes it so different. It really drops into you. A good lover is unselfish and willing to take you where you are and who you are.
NC: I think that the characteristics are the same. The biggest for it is attentiveness to details and acceptance. Sometimes as a partner, as a lover, and as a friend, we want people to be who we want them to be and are not able to truly accept them for who they are. So, to be a good lover, you have to know who your lover is, what they need, and it has to excite you to fulfill that. So, when you're excited to fulfill someone else, that makes you a good lover or friend. We want to genuinely see your friend do amazingly. I think that's what characterizes a good friend. With Aurora, the way my friends are celebrating this for me, I know that they love me because of how they're excited as if this is them. I think that it's the same thing in any relationship. When you love like that, then it works because of selflessness.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What do you think Aurora would be like if Detective Benoit Blanc from Knives Out came on board to investigate the mystery? Who would be his prime suspect?
WH: He'd have a lot to work with and a lot to sort through. These characters have so much going on--so much that you can see and so much that you can't see. For the things that you can't see, there's this undercurrent that really colors how they react to other people, the choices that they're making, and how they're trying to drive the boat on their own. It would blow up our movie a little bit if he showed up, but it would be a lot of fun.
NC: I think that Leah would be his prime suspect because it's always the person that you're not looking at. He would look at Leah because she projects or overcompensates for what she's doing. Because she's so protective of Kenny as a big sister to him, I think that he would probably eye her first as, "What does she have at stake here that makes her so invested in this?" As Wakeema said, I think it would totally turn the movie upside down, but it's fun to think about.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Noel, how did you avoid including sex, violence, voice-over narration and flashbacks in Aurora?
NC: It was a challenge for me to avoid those things. I always want to challenge myself as a writer and as an artist to be able to tell a story that can captivate, that can move people and evoke strong emotion without using the obvious tools. Sex and violence are obvious tools. Voice-over is an easy way to get through a story. I did consider it at a moment, but I felt like giving these talented actors across the cast the opportunity to really stretch out and to flex their creative muscle, it required me to be a minimalist of sorts and to really step out of their way by not including some of the easy devices. There's a challenge in doing that, so when I was seeing it all come together, and it still landed with the power that it landed with, I'm absolutely proud of it because I was able to do that in a way that didn't employ those devices. Grandmothers with their grandchildren, people from ages 10 all the way to 110, can go to see this film and talk about it from their vantage point. We have the two young nieces in the film that have a vantage point. What do they see in the story? What are the couples seeing? What are the parents seeing? What are the friends seeing? So, I think that you get so many perspectives, so an audience of 200 people in a theater is going to go out of the theater with various perspectives and have a really rich conversation. Sometimes when you use those flashy things, you take that away. That's why I chose to go this more subtle way.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Watching Aurora, I couldn't help but miss the 90's thrillers. What do you think of 90's thrillers compared to modern thrillers?
WH: Technology of course, is great, but sometimes it can make us a little lazy. I think that the 90s thrillers had this subtlety, this nuance that now we can get distracted by having all these cool CGI things and cool little tricks that we can use. Sometimes you forget to just keep it simple and to trust the audience to figure it out and to be there with you. So, I think that that's what I miss most about the 90s thrillers. I liked that, like you were saying in your previous question, that Noel Calloway employ a lot of those devices, so it really allows the audience to live through it with us.
NC: To that point, that's my storytelling. I'm informed by the 90's and early 2000's thrillers and love stories, and how layered they were and trusting they were of the audience to be intelligent. I think now that a lot of film, music and just entertainment as a whole, has started to cater to the least common denominator in terms of the intelligence of the world. It doesn't allow us a space to really have fun with art in the same way. I'm taking on that challenge of recreating that moment and empowering other filmmakers that are in my orbit to recreate that moment and not cater, necessarily, to the easy answer. And to trust the audience. I trust the audience to watch Aurora, get it, understand it and be able to empathize and understand the characters that aren't simple and easy. I think that the 90's was a sweet spot for art and entertainment, and I'm informed by that. That's what I'll continue to create.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Noel, how challenging was it to keep the running time down to 95 minutes?
NC: It's a challenge as a writer because I wanted to live with these characters as long as possible. I absolutely wanted to keep telling their story, but being a good writer means being able to communicate your point in a few words and allowing for the action and set-up to tell the story. Everything tells the story; it's not just the words. It's not just about stretched out scenes. The space and quiet sometimes tells the story. I just really challenge myself to stick to that and to allow it to be told in a snapshot and to trust the audience to fill in some blanks with the backstory. They want to tell you everything. They want to show me Giselle and Kenny as 8-year-olds, but we don't have to do that. They can create the backstory onscreen and you can see it. So, the actors' talent is what led me to be able to do it and to really be able to tell a story with all of their abilities: their presence, their voice, their bodies and their emotions.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What do you think is the benefit of making a lower budget film like instead of a $100 million dollar blockbuster?
NC: Sometimes when you strip it down, you get to see the heart of the story. So, I think that that's what's missing today: being able to see the heart of the story and the characters without all of the distractions. There's a place for everything. I love a good Marvel movie, too, but I love a good story.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What film do you think would pair well with Aurora in a double feature?
EW: In a very interesting and abstract way, A Thin Line Between Love & Hate. I think that this movie really explores how love can happen to you and what that does to you. Is it bringing out all the things that you thought it would? How much are you willing to fight for it? Sometimes the ways that you're willing to fight aren't pretty, but you're going to fight for your love. To that point, it can be a very thin line between love being a beautiful thing and love being a little bit messy.
NC: That's a great choice. I would go with Love & Basketball because I think that those types of layered films told a very long love story about his childhood friends who grew into an adult romance and family. I think that Aurora will put you in a space to want to live that type of emotion--to be with the family, to be with the story, that really gives you the level of character development. So, on movie night, I think Aurora would pair well with some good food, some good wine and Love & Basketball.
TT: There are so many. Let's pair this with a good, old classic Mahogany. How about Mahogany? That seems like a good film to pair it with.